And now bunny tragedy.

I am a very bad, very irresponsible bunny farmer.

I purchased two English Angora rabbits at our county fair; they have been making bunny love every since I got them although at first they were separated (they are masterminds at figuring out how to get to each other), and since Gracie was never pregnant, I figured that George was sterile and, hey, why not let them do their thing?  Just to be on the safe side, I would check Gracie’s abdomen, feeling for babies, every few days, but I never felt anything.  She never felt heavier, she never acted like she was pregnant.  So, outside they went.

I worked three days in a row at the hospital, and a fourth shift from noon to midnight at the ambulance company; got off late there and didn’t get home until 230 am.  Needless to say, I waited until the morning to check on the bunnies.  Big mistake.

I went outside to feed and water them and found five dead babies, all either outside the cage or next to the cage wall.  Cold and dead.  They were very large, healthy looking babies other than being dead.  I was horrified.  Had I known she was pregnant, I would have brought her into the house, for one thing, and made sure she had a better nesting box than her litter box, for another.

Words can’t say how terrible I feel.

Project for today is to either purchase another large cage so they can be separated or to buy stuff to build another larger hutch that can also keep them separated.  And to get some turf so they have a place to romp outside.  Separately, until it gets warmer and I feel more comfortable about having babies.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I worked.  Time and a half, and a wonderful day with no more than 4 people in triage at a time, and no more than 80% of our beds filled at any given time. The patients I dealt with and cared for were pleasant and positive, and really needed to be there.  Docs were in a good mood, we had a potluck meal, and everything was as perfect as a holiday without family can possibly be.

I got to go home early which was great, but it was only 20 min early.  I wished several times I had brought my knitting; I had so much free time in between patients I could have knit a sock — literally !!  One my my coworkers said however that if I HAD brought it I would have merely jinxed myself and never would have had time to actually touch it.  Definitely a point for those of us who are superstitious…

Tomorrow we have our family meal — much of it not local, but all of it made from true scratch — pie from pie pumpkins, cherry cobbler from cherries saved this year; bread from fresh ground grain.  The sugar is organic coop unrefined, the butter is local to the state and organically produced.  Veggies from the back yard, partly.

Four days off beginning tomorrow.  I NEED those four days off.  I want to be mentally as far away from my career choice as possible; I need to simply be a knitter, farmer, and carpenter to get my head screwed back on and be mentally ready to go back.

I hope your holiday was as good as mine was today, and will be tomorrow.  And I truly give thanks for what our efforts have produced, for the anchoring stability of family, for opportunities, and for forgiveness.     May there be cause for even more thanksgiving next year!

Rocket Stove. Ripping Success!

Well, the title says it all.

DH thought I was insane (what else is new?) when I made my model of Vavrek’s rocket stove (link to the Google video is on a previous post).  I put off using it, and put it off, and put it off until I forgot about it in the summer heat.

I brought it out to our campsite with us, and we fired it up.  Lo and behold, it worked amazingly well!  Not only did it burn clean — like no smoke smell at all — but we grilled burgers on it.  Which was a mistake as they  dripped grease on it, and that smoked.  And I had a mess to clean afterward.  But, converts were made.

DH was even so impressed with it that we fired it up in the back yard for our neighbor to see, and gave him some links on making a bigger one.  He was quite fascinated and I think my tinkerer neighbor will be making his own for experimenting with as well.  DH wants to make a bigger one, and use one instead of buying a wood stove or use it for portable heating.  I would also like to do that — I have seen stoves with the pipe running out a window (top pane) with the pane seasonally taken out in favor of insulated plywood.  I don’t know that I would feel comfortable doing that with a regular wood stove, but doing it with a stove where the main by products are CO2 and water vapor would probably be OK.

I’ll post pictures when I get a barrel and work on a heat circulation chamber.

A little research.

I live in kind of a unique area of the Southwest.  We have a climate that is only about 5 – 10 degrees cooler than Phoenix in summer, at least during the day, but cools off markedly more after dark.  This means that for most of the year, we have our windows open for some portion of the day before it gets hotter outside than in, and they are open at night for all but the very hottest nights.  We purchased a swamp cooler that has reduced our utility usage compared to A/C rather markedly, and judicious usage will improve that even more (after learning to live without A/C unless it was over 85 in the house, the delicious 75 of the swamp cooler was a luxury we probably waaaaay over used our first season).  We get frost by Halloween every year, though, and can expect freezing overnight temps right up until the end of April.  During the day however, for most of the year, it’s pretty nice.  It was about 75 outside today, and believe it or not I have tomatoes that are ripe.  In November.  A week before Thanksgiving.

We get snow every year, but it usually doesn’t come until April in our little corner of the world, even though 40 miles (and 100o feet higher) up the road it snows several times a year; it usually doesn’t really stick for long though. Like any desert area anywhere, the extremes of temperature make it challenging to grow food.  But it also helps me point my eyes toward what I should be trying very hard to grow — if it can grow in Cairo, or Greece, or Southern Italy, it should grow here.  Theoretically anyway.  That’s part of the challenge of this area; the temperature extremes are such that what should grow, often doesn’t…or well, anyway.

Mr. TF and I went to Sharlot Hall museum a few days ago.  I was happily surprised at the amount of information that was available there regarding the traditional foods, farming methods, and lifestyles of the local Yavapai tribes.  That was invaluable information!

For instance, one of the chief staple carbohydrate foods of the Yavapai was agave.  They would cut the spiny ‘leaves’ off after they dug up the entire plant, roots and all, and dig a pit.  In the pit they would build a fire, then when there was a good hot bed of coals, in went the the shorn root ball.  I forgot how long it said they cooked it, but it is supposedly mildly sweet, and is a rich source of carbohydrates and trace minerals.  I would have never thought of eating that!

We had to leave before we were done looking around but we plan to go back and I want to find out where I can learn more about the traditional foods and methods of farming.

I am coming to realize that gardening here while challenging, can be done — with modifications.   What the modifications are I need to have a much better understanding of.  What works in Tucson, or Phoenix, may not work here I’m finding.  Or not nearly as well.  What does, and can be maintained, is what I want to learn more about.

I DO know that the typical ‘5 acres and freedom’ type of small holding is NOT a sustainable use of land and water here.  You need a lot more land than that if you’re going to raise cattle on any scale.  Sheep and goats are the way to go here.  It’s no wonder that they are so common in the same areas I look to for gardening inspiration; they can eat scrub, they don’t eat much in comparison to their body weight, and they produce multiple uses:  meat, fiber, and milk on a time line that is much better suited for living on marginal land.  Cattle on the other hand just aren’t a productive use of the land here.  Too much water need, too much grazing need, too much time between calving and maturity.  Pigs on the other hand can adapt to pretty much anywhere; they like humans will eat whatever is put in front of them as well as whatever they can forage.  They are definitely worth considering on a sustainable basis, as long as they aren’t rooting in sensitive ecological areas.

Now, in defense of cattle I must also say that our native vegetation co-evolved with large herbivores (mammoths/mastodons) to have the fruits be eaten so that the action of the herbivore’s gut would help prep the seed to grow, and the dung would fertilize the seed where it landed.  A true ranching model, with beef on many many acres and being rotated through the land via portable fences, is sustainable and is also environmentally true to the evolutionary model of the area.  Feed lots though are a bigger disaster here than in the Midwest if you can imagine it, simply because the environment is so very fragile compared to a more robust Midwest grassland with rivers and streams.

My friend Animal says that goat tastes like antelope.  I’m going to have to find a source for goat and try it to find out.  If it’s at all palatable and not an acquired taste, I may have a source for them.

Auction time

Mr. TF and I went to an auction the first weekend of November.  I haven’t been to an auction since I was a child so I was really looking forward to it.  The auction is a twice a year gig — they travel to the midwest and bring back stuff for auction; I’m not sure what the family does for income in the meantime although I suppose they probably ‘chair’ other auctions around the state as they are an auction house.  They had a gun auction with some antiques going on at the same time as the household antiques and an antique farm equipment auction right after those.  This actually took all day, and they were still going at sunset when we left, at around 6pm.

I had forgotten the sheer amount of talking that goes on!  Some of the auctioneers did their thing nonstop from 9am to past 1pm before being spelled.  It was pretty amazing, really.  We saw one of the auctioneers come into the bar/grill we ate at before going home; I can’t imagine wanting to even have a radio turned on let alone be around people after a day like that.  Just goes to show that I’m not cut out to be an auctioneer I guess.

I came home with a few prizes, and more that I got out bid on.  Some of the things I got out bid on were a vintage egg incubator from 1933 with all of the parts intact, including a newspaper article announcing its release, and the owners manual; an intact Aladdin lamp; and three pickling crocks.  I did get, however, a scythe (which I’ve been wanting for years and couldn’t afford new), a hand drill, a hand crank grinder, and most importantly, a second pressure canner!  It’s a National No. 7 with wood handles (!) and the original gauge.  I spent…wait for it….$5 on it!  I was the only bidder!  It’s complete with the owner’s manual, and all I need to get is the gauge pressure tested and a new rubber seal.

new canner

Everyone at the auction was laughing when I bid on, and won, one of the scythes.  They asked what a little lady was going to do with one, and I said ‘cut my grass’ which made them laugh even more.  One guy told me “Halloween is over you know.”  I actually plan to do some guerilla gardening and plant a crop of  native winter wheat in the next few weeks, and I’ll need the scythe in the not too distant future to harvest my crop.  They had one European style scythe and the rest were American; I got the best of the lot of Americans.  The wood is a little dry rotted, but the blade is straight with very little rust.  It will get me through my little sessions of scything, at least for this year.

scythe blade

Mr. TF won a “Junior Electroformer” which we have not the faintest idea what it is, or does.  It’s black melamine from what looks like the 30’s or 40’s.  It’s in the picture of the other stuff we bought below.  He Googled it and found nothing, but it does have a patent number on the back so we may be able to find out more information using that.

more auction stuff

The one thing I didn’t take a picture of was the ice tongs that came with the Electroformer.  Why those two came as a lot we still can’t figure out!  So we are now the proud owners of a set of bright orange painted ice tongs. And that was our day at the auction.  The guns were the primary reason we went, but they all were selling for WAY more than we could afford.

Off topic completely –

One of my coworkers had a death in the family so I covered one of her shifts.  It was overtime for me, which was a blessing as Mr. TF still isn’t getting very many shifts at his job.  NOW I remember why I got a second job rather than work overtime.  48 hours in one week in an emergency room is simply too much for me.  When I do that I hate people, I hate my job, I don’t even want to talk or be around anyone when I come home.  It’s just too much.  So, after two days of my four off this week, I’m not quite ready to go back but I have definitely been refreshed on why I don’t answer the phone on my days off.  I have a job that is a good one, and for the most part I like what I do, and working overtime just sucks the life out of me.  It’s not worth it at any price.

On the Independence Days front, I had to replant the lettuce.  Not sure what happened there, but all the sprouts died.  Same for the cabbage.  The beets, kohlrabi, and broccoli are doing very well, the leeks are finally sprouting, and I planted orach yesterday.  Today I’ll plant mache.

The bunnies went outside for the first time last night.  I fretted all night but they were fine this morning.  I do need to get some plywood and lumber to build them a nicer hutch to protect them from the elements though.  And get some sod to waste water on in my side yard so they have a place to graze and enjoy the sunshine.

The problem with our water usage wasn’t the hot water heater, it was that a pipe had corroded and burst under the house.  We were losing hot water in a constant pressurized stream under the house.  So I’m sure our propane usage was skyrocketing also, without us realizing it.  The good news was it was less than $200 for the plumber to fix.  That was the money we had budgeted for two new tires for my car though, so I’ve been driving a little more carefully than normal in case I have a blowout while driving.

My oldest son isn’t able to come for Christmas this year, which saddens me as I asked for, and got both Christmas Eve and Day off this year for the first time in MANY years.  But we still plan to have a big dinner and have all the family that’s willing to come, along with all the friends as feel like eating instead of cooking, over for dinner.  Much of what we eat will be from stores put up over the summer, which still seems amazing to me.  The turkey won’t be local, but it will be from a pasture raised flock.

It is still hard for me to be constantly thinking ahead to the next season when it comes to planning mode.  Fantasy mode, it’s easy.  Brass tacks ‘what exactly do I have to have on hand and when do I have to start it’ not so much.  I’m working on it though.  My fantasy garden won’t come to life unless I do the grunt work to make it happen.


Human Tragedy

Today was a very difficult day at work.

Youngish to middle aged man (under 50) called 911 complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath.  By the time EMS got to his house, he was unconscious.  By the time he got to us, they were doing CPR.

We worked him.  For so very long.  We couldn’t stop as long as there was the faintest chance, nobody wanted to stop.  He would rally and then fade, just a little more every time.  He appeared fit, like a runner’s body; he obviously spent a lot of time outdoors as well.

He wanted to live.  He really wanted to live.  I can’t go into detail but believe me when I say that he fought very very hard, and he at some level had to have known what was happening.  Problem was his heart just couldn’t do it, couldn’t make him live.  Too much damage.

I see a lot of death in my profession, but I don’t see stuff like this very often.  He left a preteen son, a wife, and extended family.

May the Gods speed his soul on its journey home.

May They comfort his family and help them to mend someday.

Happenings, Independence Days, etc.

Planted:  beets, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce.

Harvested:  7 1/2 lbs green tomatoes, 7 green peppers, 15 chiles,  and about a pound of eggplant after our first hard frost.  It was a sad day to see the brown where there had been green just two days before!

Preserved:  3 pounds of fried green tomatoes breaded and quick fried, frozen on a tray in the freezer.  Working on a green tomato antipasto recipe for the rest, they’re sitting in the brine solution waiting for me to quit doing other things (like work) and get to them.  Roasted the eggplant and chiles and froze them.  Chopped the peppers and froze them.

Eat the food:  Chard and Parmesan frittata; Pumpkin Stew (the pumpkin was leftover from Halloween) with home made cheese biscuits; curried chard and poached eggs over purple jasmine rice (recipe thanks to Kate ).  The pumpkin stew I modified; I used cumin and allspice instead of the spices in the linked recipe, and lentils instead of the ground beef.  I had enough left over that we put the rest in the freezer and plan to use it as a casserole with parmesan cheese baked on the top.

Reduce waste:  well, it’s more waste because they’re additions to the household, but I’ve been using the bunny manure in the garden beds.  I anticipate having very fertile beds for the coming year, and I’m happy and relieved I don’t have to depend on manure from unknown sources any more.  No more curled leaves on my sensitive plants, or deaths out of nowhere, or plants that stay 4 inches tall for six months solid.

Build community food systems:  my friends Dana and Dean purchased a litter of piglets and are planning to raise them to slaughter.  Mr. Tin Foil and I have already committed to buying one at slaughter time.  So we will have an Easter ham that is locally raised, on goat milk and scraps.  I would MUCH rather pay them as I see how their animals are raised!

Happenings:  we went camping.  Sort of.  I had to come home twice a day to care for the animals, which was OK as we were only 20 minutes up the road on Federal land.  We got visits from Forest Service rangers twice in the same day, both apparently ready for a fight and we had to tell them both “hey, we’re the people who clean this up every time we camp!”  Which is true — I’ve called them in the past and taken license plate numbers down regarding illegal quads in the riparian areas.  We have even offered to come out and care for our little campsite on a regular basis which was refused, but they do seem to have invested a lot more effort in the last year or so into making sure assholes with motorized vehicles and guns don’t do any more damage than they already have to the area.  Last year somebody came out there and pulled boulders placed by the Forest Service out of the way so they could make a quad racing area through the POSTED no vehicles area; several of us were nearly run down by racing quads.  We parked one of our vehicles across their access point and nearly caused a war.  This year the boulders are back in place, the other access road has been trenched deeply and fenced off as well, and although I don’t like being confronted by people who obviously are ready for an argument, I appreciate them being around.

We have been wondering why our water usage has gone up so dramatically; Mr. TF was attributing it to the watering of the garden but we found out why…the water heater is overflowing and leaking under the house.  We have a plumber coming out today to look at it and hopefully it’s only the pressure relief valve that needs to be replaced…otherwise we are facing a very large and unexpected bill.

If it turns out that the water heater needs to be replaced, I can take out a loan on my 401k to replace it I guess.  I DO want to also install a passive system that is solar heated and use the tank in the warmer months merely as a holding tank.  That will seriously reduce our propane usage even more, as the water heater is the only remaining system that we use that has a pilot light running all the time.  We don’t use the furnace, and we got a stove that is electronic ignition.  The one bad thing about the stove is that we have found out that if it’s not plugged in the oven won’t work.  So if we lose electricity we won’t have the ability to bake in the oven.  Yuck.

We used the rocket stove for the first time.  Wow!  It really does burn clean — the only smoke was from the fat from our burgers dripping onto the surface.  Definitely a good thing for use with a wok or stuff you want to cook quickly, not so great for long cooking times; it must be tended constantly as the use of twigs means they burn hot and fast.  I am convinced however that this is a valid indoor cooking method as well as heating the area it’s used in (at least while in use).  I would like very much to build a bigger model that would use larger chunks of wood for further experimentation (I doubt I could actually install one in my home, my insurer is pretty strict on what they will allow but I can try).  I really want a wood stove.  Have been looking into costs involved with purchasing and installation.  Yikes.  That’s why I want to try building one on my own; cheaper, 90% plus efficiency, and I can cook on it as well.  Having it professionally installed I have no problem with, other than the cost, and getting it inspected by the county or the local fire department I’m also fine with.  Versus losing the insurance when they’re the only company in the state that insures mobile homes, it’s a no brainer.

Lots of personal drama, but that’s not for public consumption.  Lost a friend over it…alcohol makes a very poor conversation lubricant.  Unfortunately when a person is under the influence they aren’t capable of listening to reason.

The chickens have been frightened by something in their coop (I have not the faintest idea what, I’ve been in there multiple times and found nothing) and won’t set foot in it.  I picked up three and placed them in it with me to prove there’s nothing there but they are still afraid.  They haven’t laid eggs in days, and are obviously stressed.  *sigh*  The only thing I can think is that there was something either under the coop or trying to get in that scared them.  I haven’t looked under as it’s about a two inch clearance from the ground, and it’s hardware cloth on the bottom with plywood over that.  Unless something chews its way through two inches of wood to get to them, there’s not much that can harm them.

Time to drain the swamp cooler and tuck it away for the year.  Time to finish painting the house.  Time to pour the foundation for our stone patio, and to make the herb spirals in the front yard.  Time to peruse seed and tree catalogs and dream of what we will plant in the spring.